DISTANT REPLAY: There are a million stories in the Naked City. But because there are so many, some get lost in the shuffle. This particular story took place on February 29, otherwise known as Leap Day. It began in the evening with a group bike ride organized by a group of uppity, obstreperous, attitudinal, idealistic bike riders who aren’t happy unless they’re getting in someone’s face. Known as Critical Mass, this group subscribes to the outlandish notion that the world would somehow be improved if more people got out of their cars and onto their bikes. Given the South Coast’s climate, terrain, and poke-you-in-the-eye natural beauty, it’s kind of pathetic that only 4 percent of Santa Barbara commuters cycle to and from work.
As low as this figure is, it’s still much higher than most cities throughout the United States. Elsewhere, Critical Mass seeks to empower cyclists by hosting huge, raucous rides that completely shut down regular traffic. This being Santa Barbara, the rides usually draw only about 30 people, hardly enough to stop traffic but sufficient enough to constitute a minor nuisance.
The Leap Night ride in question started out at Alameda Park and snaked its way back and forth across town, eventually spilling out onto Milpas Street by the Cabrillo softball fields. Along the way, these radical velocipedes and velo-utionaries-some wearing red clown noses because everyone knows clowns are scary-blocked intersections by riding their two-wheelers in tight little circles as the lights changed from red to green to red again. Some got self-righteous and annoyed the nearby motorists; others remained sweet and calmed them back down. The idea was to educate drivers how it feels to be a second-class citizen of the road. But making a car wait in traffic longer than normal doesn’t really equate with a cyclist getting plowed under by a metal machine weighing thousands of pounds. Just ask the poor cyclist who was crunched by the Mission Street off ramp early Monday morning.
Although most motorists weren’t inconvenienced for all that long during the Critical Mass ride, the action was still enough to generate complaints. Dispatched to the scene was Detective Jaycee Hunter, then driving an unmarked squad car while assigned to anti-gang surveillance with his partner, Officer Scott Klacking. Unbeknownst to the Critical Mass riders, Hunter considered himself an authority in their ways. And he did not like them, not one little bit. In his report of the night’s showdown, Hunter describes Critical Mass in such terms it’s a wonder Homeland Security was not called out. “I have had extensive training and experience with this anarchist bicycle group,” Hunter wrote. “I had received training of their terrorist-type behaviors with law enforcement and am aware that I must be extremely conscious of officer safety due to their radical, aggressive/violent attitudes toward law enforcement officers.”
Obnoxious maybe, but terrorists?
It’s true that some dedicated, hard-working cycling activists worry that Critical Mass is setting back the cause of cyclists everywhere with a confrontational style that confuses hormones for ideology.
Maybe if they had the numbers, they’d be different. But here in Santa Barbara, Critical Mass riders are known to run red lights, block lanes, ride without lights, and execute concentric donuts at intersections. On one occasion, they repeatedly circled the roundabout at Milpas Street until almost falling over from dizziness. Such behavior actually sounds kind of fun. Liberating maybe. And depending on your distance, also irritating. But Hunter described it thusly: “In the process of the ride, they will intentionally and maliciously commit numerous traffic violations, often endangering their lives and the lives of other citizens.”
With this mindset, it’s a wonder things didn’t get more out of hand. When Hunter observed a couple of Critical Mass stragglers run a red light, he drove after them. Pulling up alongside, he turned on his lights and sirens and yelled, “Stop, police.” Hunter says the rider, Michael Howard Miller, sought to flee and crashed his cycle when trying to jump a curb. Even so, Miller kept fleeing. Hunter ran after him, pulled his Taser on the fly, and ordered Miller to the ground. At that point, Hunter recounted how Miller’s fellow riders began circling back, in what he concluded was an effort to free him. “I was in extreme danger. I was surrounded by a rapidly approaching, militant, anarchist group who were behaving in the exact manner that I was trained they would behave,” he wrote. He described how rider Carleigh Michelle O’Donnell, a Celtic road warrior, emerged as the spokesperson for the group and began peppering him with questions. But Hunter said he saw O’Donnell’s questions for what they were. “She attempted to engage me in discussion as a distraction technique,” he said, so the group could creep closer to him and snatch away his prisoner. After waving off the crowd with his Taser, Hunter called for backup. When it arrived, Miller, O’Donnell, and fellow rider John Patrick Flannery would be arrested, either for resisting arrest or refusing to obey an officer’s command to move back.
But at the March 18 City Council meeting, Miller and a handful of Critical Massers showed up to tell another story. As they described it, Hunter scared the hell out of them, appearing out of nowhere in an unmarked car and executing the classic, sudden, swerving Adam-12 stop way too close for comfort. They thought he was going to crash into them. Miller tried to jump the curb, they said, so he wouldn’t get run over. They complained that Hunter gave them next to no warning; the lights and sirens sounded about the same instant Hunter jumped out of the car. To have a cop pull a Taser on someone for running a red light, they said, was just plain nuts. If anyone was out of control, they said, it was the cops. Sure they demanded the officers’ names and badge numbers, they said, but denied trying to snatch Miller away. Hunter was not at the meeting to defend himself. But if he were, I bet he’d say that’s exactly what he’d expect them to say. At least that’s what I’d expect.
This story is far from over. Someday soon-maybe this week even-the three defendants will appear before Judge Brian Hill on misdemeanor charges. I don’t pretend to know what will happen. But when it does, there won’t be just one million stories in the Naked City; there will be one million-and-one. In the meantime, don’t run over people riding bicycles. Better yet, try becoming one. It’s a lot more fun.